Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First studio shoot with Retro Spex

Now for a bit of something new, well at least for me it is. I was asked a month or so ago to do a band shoot for a local cover band. No problem there!

However, they wanted a studio shoot. Errr...sure, I can swing that!

See, I don't own a studio. Last time I was in a real studio was probably 4 years ago before I even picked up a camera. I did take a course on the basics of a studio, but considering we were usually 4-6 people working in the same place for an hour, you don't really get THAT much hands on. But hey, it was a few years ago, things should still be fresh in mind, right? Right?!?

First stop, finding a studio.

These places can be damn expensive. I understand why, they are premium locations, equipment, rent and all that jazz to cover. I found a place that was well priced, came with some quality lights. I do have some speedlites (flashes) I can use remotely, but having some quality studio strobes to use makes a nice difference.

I booked the studio for 4 hours, from 6:30pm to 10:30pm. I asked the band to show up for 7:00pm, giving me at least 30 minutes to set things up and get things ready. While the band fully understood that I'm not a studio pro and are accepting of me playing with lights and such while I shoot, I still wanted to give them as professional an experience as I could.

My first impression when I got to the studio was that this place was small to shoot 5 people. It was a rectangular room, very clean and very nice, but the backdrops were placed on the long walls, not leaving much room to shoot. There wasn't an option to move them to the short wall to give me more shooting space.

One thing I wanted to do was shooting with a longer lens (I brought my 70-200 with me). When you have a longer focal length, the image will be a bit squished and tight. Compared to shooting with a wider lens where the image will be stretched. The reason for doing this is that you'll get all the members in the shot, on the background, and minimize what is around the backdrop. However, to shoot a group shot at 150mm, you need plenty of room, something I could not get in this place. No problem, we'll make due!

The widest I could shoot, with my back almost on the opposite wall, and get the whole band in the shot (not even full body) was about 30 mm, which is pretty wide. Trying to keep the sides of the backdrops out of the image was very challenging.

I didn't want to stick to my original plan of shooting long as I was not able to. I decided that if I can't shoot long, I'll just get up in their face with a wide angle lens and play with that. It turned out that this worked pretty well!

The image below is at 18 mm


Lights, camera, more lights!!

Now the thing that was really stressing me out was using the lights. One of the most critical things in photography is being able to control and understand the light and the shadows. Where they are placed, what they are drawing attention to.

I have shot with a flash on camera, I have bounced that light off ceilings and walls to create shadows, but now I actually had 3 lights to play with and place where I wanted to, at the power I want to. Things like the inverse square law (the amount of light that drops off when you move a flash away), lighting ratios (main light power vs. fill light power vs. hair light power vs. background light power), and then the position of all the lights are all things you need to keep in mind.

So I started with simple things. Make sure I get the images I need to get to make them happy. Then start playing around.

I toyed with the standard main light on one side, 45 degrees up and a fill light closer to me, lower down, at a lower power setting. It seemed to work pretty well. I kept looking for odd or big shadows showing up on the band’s faces. If they were too big, I turned the light, adjusted settings, whatever I felt worked.
I tried some more cross lighting (not even sure if that’s what it’s called haha), with 2 lights, almost equal power, both 45 degrees up at opposite ends.
I even tried some side lighting, where one light to one side of the subject, causing a harsher shadow on their face.

Mistakes... I’ve made a few...
I thought I’d show some of the mistakes I made. Nothing really huge (you will never see those mouhaha), but some things to watch out for.


I really like this image for its composition. It works well; the band has a nice vibe going. Some were wearing black clothing and the background was black. So I knew that I needed to shine a light on their back that would cause a bit of a rim of light to separate them from the background. That was my intent. Being in such a small space, I didn’t have room for a proper light on a boom, so I had one positioned to the side pointing at their back. It gave me the effect on one side, not much on the other.

Another issue with this is that the light is too close to the guy on camera left, so his head is much brighter. Inverse square law might help this... I could move the flash back to control the light drop off and make it more even across all the members. Would probably need to adjust things a bit to get more power.


Plenty of issues in this image. We tried to use the chaise in the image as a prop. Great idea, but I was already challenged for room. Having the prop in with the band in back has them pretty much up against the seamless backdrop.

The lights caused some shadows on the wall behind some of the band members. I tried to compensate for this in processing by putting some vignette in the corners, which are like the shadows. A few other mistakes are cutting off the drummers stick (minor, but still sticks out to me) as well as the singer’s feet. But notice how the tall singer’s (yep, two singers) head is at the top of the frame. If I wanted to save her feet, I’d cut off his head. Decisions decisions.


All in all, it was a great shoot. I learned a lot and still managed to output a good number of images for the band.

Things I learned:
• Keep it simple. Don’t go over complicated. Simple lights, simple poses. When you get comfortable, and once the model is warmed up, then fancy things up. Getting standard shots is not too complicated, but if you want to grow, try things out, even if they don’t work!
• When shooting multiple people, watch for shadows that one person casts on the person standing behind him
• Give yourself prep time
• Remember that how you are behind the lens will project to the model(s). If you are stressed and annoyed, they will feel that. Not saying you need to be all happy happy joy joy, but just keep it in mind.
• Make sure the models are rested and happy. Take breaks. I totally forgot to bring refreshments and what not; thankfully a band member brought some. Radio is always nice, water, food (nothing messy).
• Know your space ahead of time, it will help minimize the surprises.
• Keep the subjects far from the background. I couldn’t do that as much and the background was visible. I figure I could of shot at a wider aperture for more depth of field...
• Plan on not having a plan. Direction is good, but sometimes, let the models lead the shoot. I got some great shots when a model was “into the zone” and just having fun.
• Know the output the client wants. I was told that they want shots for a demo CD they are making and also some shots for the website. You’ll see below a few shots that I sent them to give them an idea of web ready shots: one is a banner style shot and another has room for text and the drummer pointing in a direction.

Here are some of my favourite images from the day. Note that these only have minor processing on them; still have some clean up to do in Photoshop.

Hopefully this wasn’t too long of a read, but I just felt like sharing.

This was playing with a wider angle and lower down (almost lying down on the ground). We were between shots, the band was chilling, and he was playing with his guitar.


Here are the two shots I did for more web ready images






One last thing to remember is to always have fun and make sure your models are having fun as well. You'll get some great shots out of it




Saturday, February 12, 2011

The quiet of winter

There can be something magical about a snow fall, specially in the city. Late at night, when there is no one on the streets, no cars, no pedestrians, its amazing to hear how quiet the city can be. As if you are the only person alive.

I tried to capture that in this image. It was one of those nights: heavy snow fall, probably around midnight, streets were empty...peaceful


A little bit behind the story of this image. I was shooting a show in a small bar that night. It was snowing pretty heavily for most of the afternoon, driving and parking in the area was a hassle. I decided to take a little break and went outside. It might of been the contrast to the loud music inside, the world just seemed to peaceful. While I could hear the thump of the music through the walls and door to the bar, I found the scene just captured the serenity of a late Montreal night covered in snow.

That just goes to show you that you can get inspired at any time, for any thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Good ol' hockey game!

I've been slacking on the blog posting lately, sorry about that.

My birthday was this past weekend (Jan 29th, write it down for next year :) ) and I got the chance to watch my 9 year old nephew play hockey! They were playing right around the corner from my house, and I hadn't seen him play all year, so no way I was going to miss this.

I brought along my camera and a few lenses, you know, in case I would have the chance to shoot. Never leave home without your gear! I've never shot a hockey game before, and best to get an idea of what you are doing before being asked and paid to do it. I've done some sport shooting before (water polo, volleyball, soccer,...) so I had an idea of what to expect in terms of how my camera would be set and the ebb and flow of the game.

These kids may be 9 years old, but man, do they have heart. They skate hard, they actually check (which they aren't supposed to do, but hey, it happens), they shoot, they setup plays. I was impressed at the skill level for their young age.

Here are a few tips that helped me (some I knew before, some I found out after shooting):

1- Know the game
While pro cameras can shoot in rapid bursts, nothing beats being able to anticipate the play and get ready for the perfect shot. Knowing what will happen when the puck is dumped, or when the pass is going to the point is critical in helping you time the shot. Burst shooting works fine, but to really take advantage of it, you need to shoot a bit before, during, and a bit after the play. The puck flying through the air takes a micro second to be in the right position...or in the wrong one.

2- Manual white balance
Lights have different colour temperatures. The sun has a different colour. Shooting in the shade has a different colour. While our cameras have decent auto white balance, shooting in manual white balance is the way to go. Depending on what your camera is seeing when you snap, the white balance of the shot may be slightly off, or in my case, make the ice look yellow instead of white for 10% of my shots. So find the right white balance and stick with it. I had to manually adjust the white balance in my final pictures.

3- Shoot faces and pucks
The puck are the subject of the game. This is what people are fighting for. So it makes sense that you have it in your shot. Two people tied in combat with no puck around will look a bit odd. So make sure you get the puck in your shots. There are some shots that are fine without, close up of faces for example. Thinking of a photo of soccer players jumping up to head the ball. Now imagine if there was no ball in the image and how odd they would look.

To tie in to shooting the puck, shoot the faces. This is where the interest and emotion lie. What makes a person's portrait so good? The eyes are sharp and clear and draw the viewer in. What makes a sports photo so good? The same. Some shots can work with the player's backs and names, but try and get the faces of the players as much as you can.

4- Its all about shutter speed
Keep that shutter fast. I thought 9 year old's would be slower, but there were times where my shutter was at 1/250 and it was still too slow to freeze the motion. No one wants blur in the image. I would suggest a minimum of 1/320, with 1/500 of a second being the ideal.

On the flip side (something I didnt do), use a slower shutter speed and do some panning to get a nice sharp subject, but blurry and steaky background.

5- Be ready at all times
Either keep your eye in the viewfinder or be ready to click quick as once the moment passes, it's gone. Both soccer and hockey are low scoring. The last thing you want is turning away and missing the one goal. Happened to me when shooting the hockey game. I was distracted by my other nephew horsing around and I missed a goal. No biggy, spending uncle time with the nephews is more important than getting the right shot, but if I was being paid, no distractions.

6- Have the right gear
This means a telephoto lens for most games. I had my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS. For soccer, I had the same lens, but could of used a 400mm f/2.8. Your shooting position will impact where you shoot from. I had easy access at the hockey game, but at the pro soccer game, I was limited to beside the net...in the back. So when the action was far, my shots are conveying the emotion they should.

Ok...enough rambling, here are some of the images from the game!











Oh... just an FYI, they lose the game in overtime. :(

Thanks for checking them out!